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What My Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis Has Taught Me

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

I was terrified; my brain wasn’t working and the thoughts in my mind surged, darting around like little race cars, crashing and then exploding. My hands shook and the tears fell; I was terrified. I don’t know what to do, I thought over and over. It was like being locked in a box with no escape.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

I was 16 years old and I knew something was very “wrong” with me, but I was incapacitated with fear. The race cars raced, crashed and exploded, and not only did I feel like I was losing my mind, I was losing my life. I was up and down, left to right, nothing was as it should have been. Days without sleep, nervous breakdowns and panic attacks, open wounds on my arms.  Nothing made sense; all of my thoughts felt like they came from someone else. I asked myself the same question over and over again, Are these thoughts really coming from me? Over and over, the answer was yes.

It became clear to me that there was no escaping the monsters in my mind, but the thought of me having a mental illness seemed worse to me than anything else. There is a history of bipolar disorder in my family, but I whenever I tried to talk to my parents they blew me off about it. So why would I bother?

It was to the point that I was scared to sit down and tell someone how I felt. I thought everyone was going to judge me. Call me “emo” for harming myself, or treat me like a “freak of nature.” I did have a psychiatrist, but I was so scared of being “labeled” with another illness that I acted as though everything was fine when I saw him. My acting wasn’t good enough, and it was obvious to him that something was wrong. He put me on depression medications, which made me so much worse. I faked a smile day after day as I thought about killing myself. I accumulated so many scars on my arms to the point where I couldn’t wear short sleeve tops. My grades were never consistent and went from amazing to horrible back to amazing, so I came out as average. I watched everything fall apart before my eyes. I made sure that no one knew what was going on and I wanted to be left alone; I didn’t want to be helped.

I didn’t tell a soul what I had done to myself because I was alone, but it started to eat away at me like an acid. I realized that I was going to die if I didn’t tell anyone. I realized then that I didn’t want to die.

The next time I went to my psychiatrist, I begged him to take me off the antidepressants and to start treating me for bipolar disorder. To my surprise, he listened. I was convinced I had bipolar because of my family history, as well as the classical manic and depressive episodes I was having. I was started on a different medication and the race cars slowed. I still had symptoms of mania and depression, but I was much better, and I was able to complete my senior year of high school. I had some problems in the beginning of the summer, but I was able to cope with them and deal with them in a way I hadn’t been able to before.

When I did ask for help, I got it. My friends and my family were there for me; they didn’t judge me, but instead they all showed me love. The reason I was so scared of mental illness was because I knew that it’s misunderstood by almost everyone who doesn’t have it. I was scared by how people would react and believed they would think I was weak, but the reality is that it doesn’t matter what others think.

I started my bipolar medication about two years ago. Since then, I’ve been put on two more medications, and I am much more stable. I still have the scars (although tattoos now cover them). I still have the breakdowns every now and then. I have to take multiple medications every day to keep me “sane.” I still have the memories of feeling so very alone … I think back and remember how scared I was to get help. I remember how real and intimidating that fear was, and I imagine someone else in the world must be feeling that, too.

Being bipolar is not something I talk about. I am a very open person, but not about that. Even still, I am writing this blog and I am sharing my story. I’m sharing my story for all of those who are alone today. All of those struggling quietly without help. I’m writing to let you know that you are not alone. There are others out there who struggle just like you. It is OK to want to be alone and secretive, but once you open a door to help, you open a door to a better life.

Photo by Brooke Cagle via Unsplash.
Originally published: January 21, 2020
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